The vinyl resurgence shows no sign of slowing, so here's a great budget turntable for your newly thrifted LPs.

ColecoVision's Affordable Retro Console

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$39.99 is all it costs to get your hands on the new ColecoVision Flashback console with 60 built-in games. Coleco's late entry into the early 80s console wars was one of my favorites, simply because it was the first to offer a near-arcade experience at home. The fact that the pack-in game was Donkey Kong didn't hurt things, either. 

This miniature recreation doesn't include any Nintendo titles, but it does offer enjoyable classics such as Zaxxon, Venture, Space Panic, Jumpman Junior, Frenzy, Cosmic Avenger and Choplifter.

Coleco-controllers

The console and controllers mimic the original hardware in an affordable form factor and you get old school composite video output (perfect if you still have an old tube TV lurking in the corner of the basement). As a bonus, it looks like the main unit will work with original Coleco controllers. [Update from the comments: Don says the ports aren't compatible with old controllers. Pity.]

The ColecoVision Flashback is available from Toys "R" Us stores across the USA. The flashback retro console series also includes Intellivision and Atari 2600 units, too. 

Learn Your Casio The VHS Way + Bonus Rap!

I have a strange love for Casio keyboards... the more pathetic sounding, the better. Years ago I found a VHS tutorial video put out by Casio in 1989. Since I make tutorial videos for a living, and am a bit of a sadist, I've watched this thing through several times. Since I took piano lessons from an ancient wispy grandma years ago, I can't really tell if a noob could really pick up how to play the instrument from this tape, but that's not going to stop Jay Levy from trying.

The tape opens up with Jay in a studio complementing the band, until - surprise! - the "band" turns out to be a single Casio keyboard. On screen graphics help first timers identify keys, and I imagine they could stab out a simple melody by following along the video. However the tape is much more entertaining that that - things I still quote to this day. There's Jay speaking directly to the urban youth with his take on rap [1:16], his unique pronunciation of "finger", and coining the phrase "don't touch your dial" [1:01]. Oh, and I guess everyone has loosely gripped an ostrich egg [0:51]

I've always wanted to edit together the best bits, but fortunately someone on YouTube has done it for me. In 2 minutes and 19 seconds, you get everything you need to know about what happens when you let Jay into your VCR and your heart. If you feel like busting our your Casio and learning a few of these hot hits, the full video is down below. We'll even send a free Invader T-shirt (I found just a few more) to the first person to do a cover of Jay's rap and put it up on YouTube (with shout outs to all your friends at Retro Thing, I would hope).

One additional revelation I'll share on how annoying an individual I really am. All that stuff Jay says at the top of the tape? I still say all of that stuff whenever I'm in a recording studio. "That's really a big hot smokin' band we're listening to..."

Classic 16mm Bolex Lenses On A Modern Camera

One of my clients is Fotodiox, a manufacturer of kerjillions of camera accessories and lights. A big part of my job is dealing with cutting edge gear, but a lot of the time I get to indulge a bit of retro geekery; putting old lenses onto new cameras. Reusing old glass is easy, and often pretty cheap. The lens adapters don't cost that much, and the lenses often are nickels on the dollar compared to their original prices.

Most of my work is in video, and recently I picked up a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera which features a "Super 16" sized sensor. The micro four-thirds lens mount is easy to adapt to a variety of lenses, so I just had to try out some 1950s Bolex lenses, and other found optical treasures using a simple C-Mount lens adapter.

We created two videos - one is a primer on the concept of giving classic lenses life again on a new camera. The second is a video essay of some footage we got shot through a thrifted C-mount lens. If you'd like to pick up a C-mount lens adapter of your own, you can get one for under $15 HERE.

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Help out Retro Thing by picking up your lens adapter on Amazon

Cameron Carpenter And His Massive Organ

I have to admit that I didn't think that Cameron Carpenter was a genuine person. The video has more than a few mockumentary style moments, but no... this guy is the real deal. Cameron is a virtuoso organist who has eschewed the stuffy image of a concertizing musician for a bit of rock flair. In the video we see his new touring organ, a massive machine built to his demanding spec.

The astonishing instrument is his response to the limits on a touring organist forced to use different instruments in different venues, instead of building a relationship with a single instrument. He is also very pro electronic organ, yet another controversy that ripples through the organ community apparently. Note that "electronic" doesn't seem to mean "small" in any way. Through his touring, his talent, and his antics (smoke machines for an organ recital!), he's gained more exposure for the instrument than its seen in decades.

I think it's good to shake up people's musical expectations, especially with an ancient instrument that's got little presence outside of cathedrals and ball parks. Just don't tell Cameron that you're there to hear him play on his pretty calliope, otherwise I think he might pop you in the mouth. And he might be right.

Thanks, Pea!

Does It Get More 80s Than A Le Clic Disc Camera?

Le Clic cameraSwatch showed the world of the 80s that fashion colors and reduced costs could turn a watch from a once-or-twice per lifetime purchase into a frivolous repeat buy. Cheapie cam company Keystone took a pastel page from Swatch's book and rolled out their Le Clic line of cameras; inexpensive cameras in fashion colors.

Pocket sized cameras weren't exactly a new idea in the late 80s, but spankin' new Kodak Disc technology meant that the cameras were easy to load, had a built in reusable flash (instead of disposable flash cubes), and a pleasing flat shape that your could easily slide into your Jordache Jeans. You could say the same about 110 cameras from the 70s too, but let's not quibble.

Keystone was serious when they launched the LeClic disc camera as a fashion forward cam. In 1986 at Astor Hall in the New York Public Library, Keystone invited 500 designers, retailers, and the fashion press to the unveiling, giving each one of the new Le Clic cameras. From the May 14th '86 Chicago Tribune:

"20 waiters dramatically came down the glorious, castle-like staircase of the historic library, each carrying silver trays. Instead of the expected hors d`oeuvres, the trays held film discs. Guests, quite naturally, grabbed the film and started shooting away."

Despite the relative crumminess of disc pictures (the negative was even smaller than 110 film, and the cameras weren't exactly kitted with precision optics), I remember the cameras being quite popular. Lots of the girls in my classes seeemed to always have a Le Clic somewhere in their voluminous Gucci knock-off purses. I imagine that the ubiquity of these cheap cameras encouraged more casual snapping, and therefore more memories captured for posterity (and grainy Throwback Thursdays on Facebook). The Le Clic was a great knock-around camera for young people. It's not like my old man was going to let me casually cart around his Canon AE-1 for spontaneous fun photos.

Now that we all have camera phones with unlimited "film" in our pockets all the time, it's easy to feel somewhat blasé about the Le Clic. I'm going to give the camera some credit for helping make photography breezy and fun, and capturing moments that otherwise may never have been.

Stern Unveils The Walking Dead Pinball Machines

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Stern is the only major pinball machine manufacturer still in business. They seem to be tempting fate with their latest licensed machine, based on AMC's The Walking Dead. The zombie-themed show seems like an unusual pick for Stern, but perhaps the wild panic of trying to avoid a zombie hoard isn't that much different from the quest not to lose your balls. Well, except for the flesh eating bit. 

The machine is available in two editions: the $5995 Pro and the more advanced $8595 LE (shown above). Each looks fantastic, but the LE includes a variety of gameplay bonuses such as some "Well Walker" exposed guts, the "Governor's Fish Tank" and a few other ramps and targets that should lead you down the path of blind panic in no time. 

Walking-dead-playfield

The Walking Dead is available only in North America. And while the price of these handmade machines might be somewhat scary for some, Stern Pinball is anything but deceased-- the factory floor is busier than it has been for years, churning out endless rows of machines for nostalgic gamers. 

The Walking Dead Pinball [Stern]

I Hear We're All Supposed To Wear Watches Now

Nothing screams 'geek cred' quite like a DIP switch.

Have you heard? Watches are suddenly cool again. After years of encouraging us to tell time using phones, the major smartphone companies are now insisting that we need watches. Fancy electronic watches that talk and flash and vibrate and know when we go to the bathroom or decide to spontaneously climb a flight of stairs. They can even call 911 when we collapse unceremoniously on the 18th floor landing. 

While some highly impressionable people will opt for mysteriously complex Dick Tracy wrist computers that require you to carry a matching $1000 telephone in your pocket, millions of others might respond to the not-so-gentle urgings of smartphone companies by purchasing a somewhat more traditional timepiece; a clever Casio, or maybe even an inexpensive Seiko 5 mechanical watch. 

If you're a tad more adventurous, you might consider the Click DIP-Switch timepiece. It's even more distinctive than most smartphone accessories, but not nearly as expensive (or capable). This clunky rectangular timepiece is capable of displaying 12 or 24 hour time, can tell you what day it is, has an almost incomprehensible "bar graph" mode, along with prehistoric backlighting for reading the time in dark caves or while buried 6 feet under. It doesn't have bluetooth, wi-fi, haptic feedback, a touch screen, heart rate monitor or even a fancy "digital crown." Heck, it doesn't even have an analog crown. 

Available from Watchismo for just over $100, in gloriously hideous silver and circuit board green/blue/red. 

Steam Powered King Tiger Tank

Radio controlled steam tank

I loved building model kits when I was younger, but it never dawned on me how fun it would be to combine a Tamiya 1/16 kit of a WWII German King Tiger tank with a couple of miniature Regner Piccolo steam engines and a 3.5" marine boiler. This brilliant machine uses 100% steam propulsion, relying on batteries only for remote control and lighting.

The tank is controlled using a traditional 6-channel radio control unit, although the R/C receiver is a custom designed circuit board. All in all, this a brilliant machine. My only regret is that there aren't more of them. A nice little British Cromwell might prove to be an excellent adversary. 

Steam Turret Tank [instructables via Hack a Day]

Peter Zinovieff's Computer Orchestra (1968)

This newsreel footage of "boffin" Peter Zinovieff gives a bit of insight into how difficult it was to create electronic music in the 1960s. For several years, Zinovieff worked out if his futuristic shed with Delia Derbyshire (who pieced together the original ethereal Doctor Who theme) and Brian Hodgson on an ill-fated project to create and promote electronic music. 

VCS3 Putney synthesizer

Zinovieff's groundbreaking contribution to popular music came a year after this newsreel, when he formed EMS with Tristam Cary and David Cockerell. Together, they produced the the VCS3 'Putney' synthesizer that retailed for the stunningly low price of £330. It was used on recordings by Pink Floyd, the Alan Parsons Project, Jean Michel Jarre, Todd Rundgren, Brian Eno and many others. 

Over the next decade EMS released the Synthi range of instruments, culminating with the introduction of the Polysynthi in 1978. 

Computer Orchestra (1968)

Transformers (Sort Of) Padlock (Sort Of)

Lock man openI wasn't the right age to be fascinated with Transformers when they were new, though I did like a lot of the early all-metal robot toys. It was almost like a three dimensional puzzle, and when you were done you could admire the cleverness of a racecar that turned into a robot. Quickly the knockoffs came, with often shamefully poor representations of the transforming robot concept, and looked lbad whether vehicle or robot.

Lock man package miniIn addition to the little vehicles, there were also converting toys that were in real-world scale. In the original toyline, the lead bad guy, Megatron, transformed into a kid-sized chrome handgun (which seems almost unimaginable now...) - way out of scale with the rest of the lineup of cars and jets and so on. They came up with an explanation of sorts in the cartoon, but since the big-budget films, they've neatly avoided those weird size issues by redefining many of the stock players.

The movies don't seem to feel any obligation to stick to the specific robot forms of the old characters. Now pretty much any earthly object can become a transforming robot thanks to the Cybertron mojo that hops into it (I think... those movies are darned confusing at times...). This new approach feels to me a bit like Frosty the Snowman coming to life thanks to that magic hat, but Transformers fans really don't like it when I say stuff like that.

Lock-man lockedThis knockoff transforming toy is named "Lock-Man" (how many memos got passed around to approve THAT name?) by a company called Four Star. By day, he is a mild-mannered ineffective all-metal padlock (Why "ineffective"? That dial on the front does nothing. The lock opens with a button on the side). However when trouble strikes, he transforms into the Johnny Long Torso of robots. But to help you, he'd have to unlock himself to run to your rescue - right? Wouldn't that leave your valuables unprotected? Seems like the Decepticons would have figured that out too.

I have to admit that even with my fondness for odd ideas (you're looking at a whole website full of 'em!), and poorly thought out rip-off products, Lock-Man is pretty lame - even for a knockoff (the original design is Bandai's "Metal Joe"). But at least he's not a Go-Bot, okay?

 


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